When The Received Wisdom Is Wrong

NyCon II (1956). Chair Dave Kyle, seated, wearing a bow tie and dark glasses; Larry Shaw at podium, John Campbell and Robert Silverberg to Kyle’s left.

This month fanhistorians were turned on their ears when a previously unknown shortlist of 1956 Hugo nominees came to light — unknown, despite the fact that it had been hiding in plain sight for over sixty years.

As the official Hugo Award site explained when they updated the entry for 1956

We thank Olav Rokne for bringing to our attention an article on page 15 of the 1956 Worldcon Progress Report 3 that included the names of the finalists along with voting instructions.

Yes, the information was in the Worldcon’s own publication. It doesn’t make sense that experienced fanhistorians were unaware of it, however, I think I’ve figured out why that happened.

First, until just a few years ago when Kim Huett started acquiring early Worldcon progress reports and making scans available through Fanac.org, few fans were in a position to consult the source material.

Second, by the time digital copies arrived online, longtime fans had no motive for checking on what seemed a settled question. Multiple fanhistories written by fans who had been active in the 1950s agreed that Detention, the 1959 Worldcon, was the first to institute a nominating ballot. Indeed, that remains true in a literal sense – it was the first use of a formal two-step process — but as we’re now aware NYcon II (1956) was the first Worldcon to issue a ballot containing a shortlist of finalists.

The authoritative A History of the Hugo, Nebula, and International Fantasy Awards (1971, 1976) compiled by Don Franson and Howard DeVore opens with an emphatic statement on this score —

In answer to the question “what and who were nominated for a Hugo?” the entire history of the awards themselves must be taken into account. For one thing, the first Hugo Award winners were not nominated….

However, before 1959, there were no nominating ballots (or if you prefer there was only a nominating ballot – there was only one ballot sent out.) Thus, there were no nominations to list here until the Detention in 1959.

Both Franson and DeVore were early fans reporting with the credibility of lived experience. So was Harry Warner, Jr. when he wrote in A Wealth of Fable —

The later year system of preliminary balloting to determine nominees followed by final voting didn’t exist until the Detention in 1959. One reason for the changeover was the apathy which the Hugo attracted during those early years. Not many people were voting, and there were many possible choices in the years without the nomination system.

Warner’s rationale for the change helps foster the impression that Hugo shortlists originated in 1959 by making no reference to the process followed by the 1956 committee, although he is literally correct that the two-step voting system was used for the first time in 1959.

So where did the 1956 shortlist come from?

NyCon II’s Progress Report 3 says on page 15:

All nominations were screened by a special committee in consultation with experts in the field to determine their qualifications… Those chosen represent the names with considerable support.

These days we would call that a juried shortlist.

Notwithstanding the shortlist, fans in 1956 were still allowed to vote for whatever they wanted:

Your ballot contains the name of each nominee with a box in the front. Either check or blacken in each box before the name of your choice. If you wish to write in the name of your choice which is not listed, do so on the black lines provided for you.

In contrast, the 1959 Hugo ballot explicitly disallowed write-in votes.

Franson, DeVore and Warner all passed from the scene years ago, so we may never find out why they all neglected to report the 1956 shortlist. The opening paragraphs of Franson and DeVore’s History stress that the Hugos are a popularly-voted award, unlike the International Fantasy Award, whose winners are also reported in the book. They may have considered a committee-created shortlist unworthy of canon. But that’s pure speculation.

The one thing we’ve learned for certain is that there was a gap in the fanhistories people depended on for the past few decades. That’s why I’m happy to know someone is looking at the origins of the Hugo Award with a fresh set of eyes.

Dave Kyle (1919-2016)

David A. Kyle at Chicon 7. Photo by John L. Coker III.

David A. Kyle at Chicon 7. Photo by John L. Coker III.

David A. Kyle, who chaired the 1956 Worldcon (NyCon II) and was fan Guest of Honor at the 1983 Worldcon (ConStellation), died September 18 at 4:30 p.m. EDT “of complication from an endoscopy” reports his daughter Kerry.

Just yesterday Kyle had been shown on Facebook enjoying New York fandom’s “End of Summer” party.

Kerry Kyle wrote:

I know he was 97 and frail, but his spirit was strong, his heart was huge, and I’m still in shock. I’m still surprised. I expected him to last a few more years. I expected to be making him dinner tonight. And I’m bereft. And at the moment I don’t really want to type much.

I know many in the Fannish community loved Dad as well and are equally as bereft reading this. I hope it …makes you feel better to know that, as always, Dad chatted about science fiction with the EMT who brought him to the hospital and with the nurses who made him comfortable. He chatted about the love of his life–science fiction–genuinely interested in hearing what they read and watched. Always spreading the word and wishing to instill within them the flame he had within himself. And, yes, he made constant jokes and terrible puns that charmed everyone in the hospital….

Dave’s wife, Ruth, predeceased him in 2011. They met at a convention in 1955. The next year she served as Secretary of the Worldcon in New York, which Dave chaired, and the year after that they married, trufannishly honeymooning at the 1957 Worldcon in England, traveling there with 53 friends and in-laws on a specially chartered flight.

Dave and Ruth had two children, Arthur and Kerry.

Kyle was one of the most active fans from sf fandom’s earliest days. He attended the 1936 meeting of New York and Philly fans which decided to dub itself the first science fiction convention in advance of the Leeds event announced for 1937. He wrote the “Yellow Pamphlet” that helped inspire the “The Great Exclusion Act of 1939” but, unlike his fellow Futurians, was not kicked out of the First Worldcon. In later years he was made a Knight of The Order of Saint Fantony, won the Big Heart Award, and in 1988 received the First Fandom Hall of Fame Award.

Kyle also had a notable professional sf career. Dave Kyle and Martin Greenberg made history by co-founding Gnome Press in 1948. Together they published dozens of volumes of classic sf in hardcover for the first time. Gnome Press went under in 1962.

Kyle’s 1956 NyCon II is particularly remembered for producing the year’s Hugo Awards by affixing Oldsmobile rockets to a decorative wooden backing. The L-shaped base displayed the rocket standing upright while concealing its hollow underside.

A list of Kyle’s autobiographical fanhistory articles for Mimosa can be found here.

Arthur C. Clarke receives Hugo Award from chairman Dave Kyle at the 1956 Worldcon, NyCon II.

Arthur C. Clarke receives Hugo Award from chairman Dave Kyle at the 1956 Worldcon, NyCon II.

The Oldsmobile Hugo

Arthur C. Clarke received Hugo Award from chairman Dave Kyle at the 1956 Worldcon, NyCon II.

Arthur C. Clarke receives Hugo Award from chairman Dave Kyle at the 1956 Worldcon, NyCon II.

It might have been the greatest April Fool’s joke in the history of science fiction had the 1956 Hugo Awards been given on this date. They weren’t, but there’s no more appropriate day for the story of Dave Kyle’s Hugos.

When the Hugo Award was revived in 1955 (having skipped a year) the Cleveland Worldcon committee hoped Jack McKnight, who machined the originals in 1953, would make their rockets, too. Time passed and their letters brought no replies. Finally, Nick Falasca asked, couldn’t they simply use Oldsmobile “Rocket 88″ model hood ornaments?

They ordered one from the local Olds dealer. Unfortunately, the rocket had a hollow underside. It wouldn’t look right standing perpendicular to the base, the way every Bonestell fan envisioned a rocket ready to launch. The committee discarded the hood ornament idea. Ben Jason asked the Hoffman Bronze Co. prepare a pattern rocket from his design. Yet Jason must have had an unfulfilled longing for the Rocket 88 logo because his 1955 Hugos still looked like a larger, 3-dimensional version of Oldsmobile’s emblem.

Attending Clevention’s awards banquet was Dave Kyle, chair of the next year’s Worldcon. Dave must have thought the Rocket 88 logo was nifty, too. And never mind Bonestell — Dave knew how to take care of the objection to hollow hood ornaments.

1956NyConSo NyCon II produced the1956 Hugos by affixing Oldsmobile rockets to a decorative wooden backing. The L-shaped base displayed the rocket standing upright while concealing its hollow underside.

I’m confident Arthur C. Clarke in the photo above is smiling with pleasure about the award he’s just won. But if he was laughing about Dave Kyle’s audacity at handing him a Hugo made from car parts who could blame him?  

(To see how Hugos are made today, read Peter Weston’s article at the official Hugo Awards website.)

Sir Arthur C. Clarke

Sir Arthur C. Clarke

Andrew Porter and Bjo Trimble send word that Sir Arthur C. Clarke has died. “He was a lovely man,” wrote Bjo. “He will be sorely missed even by those who never visited Sri Lanka to dive with him.”

 

The SFWA News site’s report reminded that Clarke was the final living member of “The Big Three” of science fiction. Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov formed the rest of a trio of writers known for their unexcelled imaginations and groundbreaking stories.

 

Michael Capobianco, SFWA President, observed, “[Clarke] was looking very frail during the videocast he sent out for his 90th birthday, considerably worse than during the Cassini flyby of the enigmatic moon Iapetus just a few months earlier, so I suppose it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. But somehow his longevity seemed part of his image, mixing the real and the science fictional, and his death seems strange and inappropriate.”

 

The Associated Press report added: 

“Sometimes I am asked how I would like to be remembered,” Clarke said recently. “I have had a diverse career as a writer, underwater explorer and space promoter. Of all these, I would like to be remembered as a writer.”

Clarke’s office announced he had recently reviewed the final manuscript of his latest novel. The Last Theorem, co-written with Frederik Pohl, which will be published later this year.

 

Clarke was 1956 Worldcon (NyCon II) Guest of Honor. His other honors include multiple Hugo and Nebula Awards, Heinlein Award, having an asteroid named after him, induction in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame, Grand Master of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Commander of the Order of the British Empire, Knight Bachelor, and Sri Lanka’s highest civilian award. Several awards are named in his honor.